Chinese military launches drills around Taiwan as a 'warning' after a top island official went to US

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BEIJING (AP) — The Chinese military launched drills around Taiwan on Saturday as a “stern warning” over what it called collusion between “separatists and foreign forces,” its defense ministry said, days after the island's vice president stopped over in the United States.

Taiwanese Vice President William Lai's recent trip to Paraguay to reinforce relations with his government's last diplomatic partner in South America included stops in San Francisco and New York City. The mainland’s ruling Communist Party claims democratic Taiwan as part of its territory and says it has no right to conduct foreign relations.

A spokesperson for China’s Eastern Theater Command said in a brief statement that the military exercises involved the coordination of vessels and planes and their ability to seize control of air and sea spaces.

It was also testing the forces' “actual combat capabilities," Shi Yi said. The drills in the waters and airspace to the north and southwest of Taiwan were a warning over provocations from pro-Taiwan independence forces and foreign forces, he added.

The command released footage of the drills online that showed soldiers running, as well as military boats and planes.

State media CCTV reported that missile-equipped boats and fighter jets were involved in the operation and that units worked together to simulate the surrounding of Taiwan.

Taiwan’s defense ministry said on the social media platform X, formerly known as Twitter, that its forces detected 45 Chinese military aircraft and nine vessels around the island between 6 a.m. Saturday and 6 a.m. Sunday. It said 27 of the planes, including Su-30, J-10 and J-11 fighters, crossed the midline of the Taiwan Strait — an unofficial boundary considered a buffer between the island and the mainland — and entered the island's air defense identification zone.

Taiwan deployed aircraft and vessels and activated land-based missile systems in response to the drills and was closely monitoring the situation, the ministry said.

The ministry also strongly condemned what it called the “irrational, provocative moves" in a separate statement. It said its military would stand ready in the face of the threats posted by the Chinese army, adding that its forces have “the ability, determination and confidence to safeguard national security.”

It posted a video on Facebook that showed previous military drills and said the Chinese military exercises reflected a militaristic mentality.

Taiwan and China split in 1949 following a civil war that ended with the ruling Communist Party in control of the mainland. The self-ruled island has never been part of the People’s Republic of China, but Beijing sees Taiwan as a breakaway province to be retaken by force if necessary.

China's official Xinhua news agency on Saturday reported that an unnamed official in China's Taiwan Work Office strongly condemned what it called further collusion between Taiwan’s ruling Democratic Progressive Party and the U.S. and said it was a “new provocative move."

The official pointed to the stopovers in the U.S., an interview Lai gave to news outlet Bloomberg and his meeting with U.S. officials in Paraguay, the report said. The official said Lai had used “Taiwan independence” rhetoric in the interview.

The official also accused Lai of using his stopovers in the U.S. to sell out the interests of Taiwan to seek gains in the island's election, and described him as a “troublemaker who will push Taiwan to the dangerous brink of war,” the report added.

Lai is his party's candidate for the 2024 presidential election in January.

Taiwanese Presidential Office spokesperson Olivia Lin accused China of trying to influence its election by sparking fears and condemned the provocation in a Facebook post. She said the international community has repeatedly stressed the importance of maintaining peace in the Taiwan Strait and urged China to stop such moves.

Taiwan's foreign minister, Joseph Wu, wrote on the X platform that China "has made it clear it wants to shape” the island's national election, and attached the command’s statement and the Xinhua report in his post. “It's up to our citizens to decide, not the bully next door," he wrote.

China's largest military drills in recent years were in response to former U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan last August. It fired missiles over the island in a significant escalation and the military exercises disrupted trade lanes in the Taiwan Strait and forced airplanes to reroute their flights.

In April, Chinese forces held large-scale combat readiness drills in the air and waters around Taiwan in response to President Tsai Ing-wen's meeting with current U.S. House Speaker Kevin McCarthy.